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Barry Hannah: Ray

The hard-drinking, womanising, smart and witty Southerner, with weird friends, a chequered history and a few odd habits, including recreational drug use, is a staple of US fiction and this novel fits squarely into this genre. Though it is very short, Hannah packs a fair amount into the story of Ray Forrester, known to everyone (including himself – he frequently uses the third person instead of the first) as Ray or Dr. Ray. Ray is a former Vietnam War pilot and is currently a doctor in Tuscaloosa. He is divorced (at the beginning of the book), though later marries Westy. Because the book is short and moves at such a fast pace, you will be never be bored with Ray’s sexual and medical adventures.

Of course, in accordance with the tradition of this genre, Ray is not exactly faithful, even when he is married. In particular, he loves Sister. Sister is a member of the obligatory weirdo family, the Hooches. Their house is completely run down and bits keep falling down. There are seven children, two sets of twins at either end, and three others, one of whom is Sister. (Her real name is Betty but everyone calls her Sister.) Ray used to date her and goes back to her early in the book. He had paid for her to go to college but she dropped out and made some money dealing marijuana. She manages to get a good career as a singer but is shot and killed by a minister shortly after having sex with Ray. The Hooch parents are, of course, eccentric. They nearly kill one another with propane and, at the end, Mr. Hooch is about to have his collected poetry published. During the course of the book, they remain a focal point for the obligatory eccentricity.

Of course, there are other strange people, such as Charlie de Soto (yes, he is apparently related), who has a passionate affair with Eileen in the office, tries to kill a neighbour for no other reason than he dislikes his regular habits and inadvertently succeeds, marries Eileen, who then loses interest in him and becomes a lesbian. Ray himself has strange adventures in the emergency room, mainly with drunks and knife-wielding thugs, flashes back to his Vietnam experiences and imagines himself as one of Jeb Stuart‘s cavalrymen slaughtering Yankees. In short, it is fast-moving, full of humour and never boring.

Publishing history

First published 1980 by Knopf